Republicans should embrace gay marriage

Sean Varsho, 28, of Chicago, left, and Brandon Dawson, 26, of Warrantor, Va., wait in line Monday for a seat for Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage.
Sean Varsho, 28, of Chicago, left, and Brandon Dawson, 26, of Warrantor, Va., wait in line Monday for a seat for Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage. The Associated Press

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether same sex-couples have a constitutional right to marry. I’m proud to be one of more than 300 Republicans who signed an amicus brief in support of the court ruling in favor of marriage equality.

I grew up in a rural Midwestern community with gay friends who couldn’t be open about who they were. Anti-gay sentiment was so accepted that a few students listed “gay people” as their “pet peeve” in our school’s official sports program. I remember thinking how outrageous that was at the time, and can’t believe we’re still debating this issue 20 years later.

I also appreciate how important my own marriage is, and can’t imagine denying anyone the fundamental right to marry the person they love.

Historically the Republican Party has stood for the expansion of individual freedom and equality. The party was formed for the expressed purpose of abolishing slavery. A century later, a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act.

We need to remember these roots and debunk some of the arguments – such as judicial activism and religious liberty – that some Republicans use to oppose same-sex marriage.

It is not judicial activism for a judge to apply the law where a fundamental right is denied without a compelling justification. In fact, more than a third of pro-marriage rulings were authored by Republican-appointed judges.

And gay marriage does not infringe upon religious liberty. The Establishment Clause protects the autonomy of religious institutions, and therefore places no burden on these institutions to perform or recognize civil marriage for same-sex couples.

There simply is no legitimate, fact-based justification for different legal treatment of committed relationships between same-sex couples.

Republicans across the country are honoring their party’s proud history by expressing support for same-sex marriage. According to a February NBC News-Marist survey, half of likely GOP caucus and primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina said they find opposition to gay marriage either “mostly” or “totally” unacceptable in a candidate.

Republicans are making progress in California, too. Recently the state party voted to recognize the Log Cabin Republicans. Neel Kashkari was the first California GOP gubernatorial candidate to march in a gay pride parade and is a fellow signer of the amicus brief.

But we still have work to do. The official California Republican Party platform still reads, “We believe public policy and education should not be exploited to present or teach homosexuality as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle. We oppose same-sex partner benefits, child custody, and adoption.”

Interestingly, it also says, “The Republican Party is the party of equal opportunity.”

Today 72 percent of California voters are something other than Republican, and two-thirds of them support gay marriage. We’re losing registration so quickly that we begin every statewide race with an insurmountable 15-percentage-point deficit and soon will be overtaken by voters who prefer “no party preference” to being Republican.

Thirty-seven states and the vast majority of voters recognize the fundamental right of two people who love one another to get married. With the Supreme Court poised to validate gay marriage once and for all, it is well past time Republicans show voters that we believe freedom and equality extend to all Americans.

Aaron McLear is a partner at Redwood Pacific Public Affairs and a member of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.